Friday, March 18, 2016

The Body of Christ, His Church

Today's Gospel from John 10:31-42 left me pensive about the question of where people are at in the Church today about confessing the truth of the Divinity of Christ:

"The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered: ‘Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected. Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because he says, “I am the son of God.” If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me; but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for sure that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’
They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them. He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptizing. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him."

The question or the puzzle is how, whether or do those who call themselves catholic believe in Jesus as God, present and active in and through His Church. Why the question? Very simply because there is a tendency abroad to reduce ministry, not to charism but to charisma: people seem to set their sights, if not their hearts, on the impressive and attractive. "The grass withers and the flower fades", but not withstanding, from "Joel Osteen" types to whomever, showmanship seems to carry the day. Lots of Catholics seem to forgo immersion in the traditional sacramental and symbolic structure of the Church, complemented by popular devotion, prayer and catechesis, in favor of the church-going equivalent of "bread and circus". The "empire" is in decline!

The rightful point of departure for a confession of the divine presence is not the recognition of talent or genius in, let's say, a particularly popular priest and pastor. Jesus' opposition in today's Gospel sought to stone Him not for what was great about Him, not for His good works, but for His conclusions drawn on the basis of the signs He worked, and that namely He is God and one with the Heavenly Father, at work in the world. 

Too often the fact that somebody in ministry puts himself forward with no small amount of zeal, as if everything depended on his endearment to a particular audience or clientele, belies a lack of faith. On the part of many people, the refusal to accept on the part of the priest his humble devotion and adherence to the rubrics established universally for the celebration of Holy Mass would likewise seem to attest a lack of faith. Call such people superficial or fickle, they are the ones apt to pick up stones to throw at Christ present in His Church.

I know this is not good exegesis, but it helps me understand, beyond quirky psychology, why many will support all sorts of folly in the Church while demonstrating at the same time a wild intolerance toward those who seek the face of Christ through a loving and humble adherence to the tradition.

Years ago, a man who had been an athlete in his youth and a coach shared with me what it was from the ministrations of his parish priest which helped him overcome his crisis of faith after being diagnosed with a debilitating illness, which forced him into early retirement, and with rapidly progressing paralysis into an institutional care setting. What inspired and sustained him was not some counsel, some inspiring words from his pastor, but witnessing this priest at various hours of the day as he paced back and forth in the side aisle of the church, silently engrossed in his breviary. This man gleaned for himself from the priest's silent devotion the assurance he needed of God's primacy in life and in the world.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your Name give the glory!

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